DETROIT — The Wings and Nashville Predators will meet for a third time in the postseason, beginning Wednesday in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
The teams split the season series 3-3 with the Wings outscoring Nashville 16-14. Each team won on the opponent’s home ice, with the Predators winning the final two meetings of the regular season.
Here are three reasons why the Wings reach the Western Conference semifinals for a sixth straight year and three reasons why the Wings season will end in the first round for the first time since 2006.
Three reasons why Wings advance
Once Darren Helm returns to solidify the Wings’ bottom six forwards, the break Nicklas Lidstrom (deep bone bruise in ankle), Pavel Datsyuk (arthroscopic knee surgery), Johan Franzen (back spasms), Jimmy Howard (fractured index finger, strained groin) and Jonathan Ericsson (fractured wrist) got could be beneficial in a long playoff run. Datsyuk already looks like he’s back to being his dominant self – prior to the injury. Howard, who missed 15 games over the final two months, posted a 1.92 goals-against average and had a .927 save percentage over the last final five regular season games.
Despite the Wings finishing the regular season 5-5-2 at Joe Louis Arena, this squad set an NHL record this season with 23 consecutive wins on home ice and finished with a league-high 31 wings at home. This after a 21-14-6 home record last year.
Past playoff experience is always key. The Wings have six players on the roster that have played over 100 playoff games, compared to one on the Predators’ roster. Detroit has five players that have recorded 72 points or more in the postseason, while Nashville has none.
Three reasons why Predators advance
Detroit has the worst record, 17-21-3, among Western Conference playoff teams. The 37 points equaled the lowest total away from home since the 1990-91 season. “We have to be better on the road that’s for sure,” Brad Stuart said. “For whatever reason we’ve had better starts at home and more confidence and I guess just overall play a better game at home. It’s something we have to put behind us. They call it the second season for a reason. We just have to focus on getting better from the start.”
Between the pipes
All you keep hearing when you talk to players in the Wings’ locker room is how big Predators goalie Pekka Rinne is and his ability to stop everything thrown in his direction. “The one thing that sets him apart is he never gives up,” Howard said. “When you think you’ve got him beat, sometimes he finds a way to get a piece of equipment on it.” Rinne led the league with 43 wins.
The Predators finished with the top-ranked power play this season, while Detroit’s penalty kill was ranked 18th. However, the Wings’ penalty kill has been perfect of late, killing off 25 straight power play chances by the opposition. In the season series, both teams have scored three power play goals.
Pick: Red Wings advance in six.